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Family of slain Haacaaluu Hundeessaa mourns their ‘hero like a lion’

The white stone house with a paved floor stands out in the Ethiopian town of Ambo, a poor region where homes are mostly constructed of wood and mud.

But the surrounding fence is incomplete – a constant reminder to the elderly inhabitants of their most famous son, political singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Addis Ababa last month.

Hundeessaa Bonsa, father to the slain Ethiopian political singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa talks during a Reuters interview at their home in Ambo, Ethiopia July 22, 2020.

“My son was a hero like a lion, he roared about his people, but he was eaten by rats,” Gudetu Hora, Haacaaluu’s mother, tearfully told Reuters at the home.

Haacaaluu, 36, was a member of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and his songs were anthems for the young protesters who brought down one of Africa’s most repressive regimes.

His death sparked protests in the capital in which 178 people were killed. Two people, including the suspected shooter, have been arrested over his murder.

“My heart won’t heal until the day I go and join him,” said Hundeessaa Bonsa, the late musician’s father. “My wound lives as it is, it won’t heal. Haacaalu was the shining son of the house.”

Haacaaluu’s songs, recorded in the Oromo language, were the soundtrack to a generation of protesters whose three years of anti-government demonstrations finally forced the resignation of the prime minister in 2018 and his replacement by Abiy Ahmed, whose father is Oromo.

His first album was released in 2009, after he had served five years in prison, where he wrote most of his songs, according to a profile in O Pride, an Oromo magazine.

His most famous single was “Maalan Jira?” (What fate is mine?), which became a rally cry following its release just before a wave of government-backed evictions began around the capital in 2015. The song has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube.

In his home town of Ambo, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the capital, where he is buried, Haacaaluu’s family choose to remember the simple, selfless acts of the late singer, who is survived by a wife and three daughters.

The half-finished fence stands as a symbol as one of his brothers explains that Haacaaluu financed the construction of the home by selling a valuable necklace a fan gave him at a concert.

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